Obesity and type 2 diabetes in Northern Canada's remote First Nations communities: the dietary dilemma

Int J Obes (Lond). 2010 Dec;34 Suppl 2:S24-31. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2010.236.


First Nations populations in Northwestern Ontario have undergone profound dietary and lifestyle transformations in less than 50 years, which have contributed to the alarming rise in obesity and obesity-related diseases, in particular type 2 diabetes mellitus. Even though the genetic background of First Nations peoples differs from that of the Caucasians, genetics alone cannot explain such a high prevalence in obesity and type 2 diabetes. Modifications in lifestyle and diet are major contributors for the high prevalence of chronic diseases. What remains constant in the literature is the persistent view that locally harvested and prepared foods are of tremendous value to First Nations peoples providing important health and cultural benefits that are increasingly being undermined by western-based food habits. However, the complexities of maintaining a traditional diet require a multifaceted approach, which acknowledges the relationship between benefits, risks and viability that cannot be achieved using purely conventional medical and biological approaches. This brief review explores the biological predispositions and potential environmental factors that contribute to the development of the high incidence of obesity and obesity-related diseases in First Nations communities in Northern Canada. It also highlights some of the complexities of establishing exact physiological causes and providing effective solutions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Agriculture
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Canada / ethnology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / ethnology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / epidemiology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / ethnology*
  • Diabetic Angiopathies / epidemiology
  • Diabetic Angiopathies / ethnology
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Indians, North American*
  • Life Style
  • Male
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / ethnology*
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Young Adult